Day 38, November 17, 1997: Apalachicola to Chiefland, FL

Today seems to have been very busy but surprisingly little got done and few miles were covered. I did learn the meaning of "Way Down Upon the Suwanee River" that Mr. Foster wrote about so many years ago and that alone was worth the price of admission. And I did get to see my first manatees today although showing them to you might not be so successful.

First thing this morning I tried to get in touch with the movers who are supposed to be handling my belongings in Knoxville. That proved to be an exercise in futility and I will have to try again tomorrow and hope that a different Bubba takes the call (sorry about that. I'll have to tone that down if I'm going to live down there, huh?).

Before leaving Apalachicola I took the opportunity to visit the little museum dedicated to the invention of John Gorrie, MD who lived here during the last century. I won't tell you what that was but will say that the museum was nicely done and I got into a good conversation with the ranger who ran the place and a visitor who designed museum displays himself. If you know about the south in the summer you will understand why this gentleman's invention rated a museum of its own.

On the drive out I got to see some more countryside, this time increasingly far from the gulf and more forested / swampy. This is an economically poor area and that might be why it is one of the few places where land is affordable. One of the prettiest areas must be the land surrounding the Suwanee River.

The place I hoped to see the manatees was only a few hours drive away at Manatee Springs (appropriately enough) State Park. This is a lovely place encompassing a section of the Suwanee River and the whole of a massive spring outflow that feeds into the river. The spring wells up millions of gallons of water every day and makes a good sized river. The manatees are attracted to the area during cold weather because the spring water stays at 72F all year round. Luckily it was cold (well, 50 degrees counts as cold down here) today and the manatees had gathered at the outflow.

I stopped in Chiefland, where the road turns off to the park and saw an opportunity to get my car serviced again. 3000 miles sure goes by fast nowadays. While it was being worked on I got into a conversation with a local retiree who came here from Jacksonville because it was so much cheaper. He confirmed my suspicions that this is an impoverished area, at least for the regular folks, and that they were indeed a bunch of red-neck good old boy throwbacks. I was already sure of my diagnosis but confirmation from a Floridian made me feel more comfortable about it.

My manatee viewing attempts took so long and my stalking around the park looking for more critters got so involving that the afternoon slipped away before I knew it. That is the reason I wound up staying in this town which really has little else to recommend it to me.

I did meet the first Alaskans so far on this whole trip. They were pulling up to the park gate as I was entering and the license plate caught my eye in the rear view mirror. They are retired teachers from Palmer and snowbird around the south most winters.

Other species, besides Alaskans, I saw in the park today were some huge turtles, what I took to be alligator snouts, catfish in the spring outflow, an anhinga, and a great white heron (or is that a big egret?). There was also a stand of trees where the outflow meets the river where at least a hundred turkey buzzards were trying to perch. They kept up a constant commotion trying to get the best branches. One time I saw a buzzard attempt perching on a dead branch which snapped with a sound like a pistol shot dropping the bird into the swamp below before he could recover. He got out of the water to dry himself but seemed rather subdued after that.

The pictures today are my best shot of a manatee and the heron / egret stalking through the swamp picking up a meal. The manatee picture isn't great since they don't ever truly surface and there was a lot of reflection and ripple on the water. Use your imagination though and try to get the feeling of what they look like. If that doesn't work, think of a 1-ton swimming swollen sausage with flippers and a broad tail.

Tomorrow I will get back on the gulf and try to make some progress toward Key West which will complete the second edge as the 13,000 mile solo journey around the edges of the USA continues.

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